Minnesota United reconfigured its backline during the offseason, bringing aboard 2017 MLS Defender of the Year Ike Opara’s size and experience from Sporting Kansas City at center back and acquiring right back Romain Metanire’s speed and aggressiveness from France’s top division.
Despite the change, veteran defender Francisco Calvo remains where he was when last season ended: At left back rather than the center position he prefers.
But play there he will, for the team’s good.
“To be honest, the coach knows it’s not my favorite spot, but if I have to do it for the group, I’ll do it,” Calvo said as United trains for its season opener Saturday at Vancouver. “If it’s what he wants and what the group needs, I’ll be happy to play there. I will try to do my and give everything at that position.”
United coach Adrian Heath prefers Calvo on the left side and Metanire on the right side, each player in his own spot.
“Both are really comfortable on the ball, so that gives us a bit of quality in their areas,” Heath said.
Heath praised Metanire’s fitness even though he hadn’t trained for two or three weeks before he was obtained in January and called his “intense running probably as high as anybody ever since I’ve been with the club.”
Calvo played both left back and center back at times last season.
“It’s one of them things that’s another strength of his,” Heath said. “He has played left back. He has played left side in the three (-man backline). He has played left back in the five. That left-hand channel is not something he’s not used to. At this point in time, that’s the best thing for us.”
Construction on $250 million Allianz Field in St. Paul is complete and United has taken possession of the keys from construction company Mortenson. Building began in June 2017 and finished with ample time before United’s April 13 home opener against New York City F.C.
The Loons, who play their first five games on the road, won’t play their first game at their new home until after the Final Four leaves the Twin Cities.
During their recent training in Florida, coaches and players recorded a thank you to the work crews who built them a home that includes a 2,920-capacity spectators’ standing section, an innovative and translucent outer skin lit by computer-controlled LED lighting, and a 360-degree canopy that will protect fans from the elements.
“It’s a magnificent stadium,” Heath said. “It’s a credit to the people who built it. Bill McGuire and the ownership group have done an incredible job. We can’t wait to get in, but we’ve got five big games before that.”
Vito is back
Goalkeeper Vito Mannone returned to practice Wednesday at the National Sports Center in Blaine after he was gone 11 days to England to finalize visa and passport issues. He played one game with his new teammates while they trained in Orlando before he left for London.
When he flew back on Tuesday, he brought his beloved chocolate lab “Choko” with him on the flight, much to the delight of those following along on the Internet.
“He has got his papers done, his passport done, everything is O.K.,” Mannone said. “It was good fun to see that even fans were waiting to see him cover over. It’s great. I can’t wait to put the Minnesota colors on him.”
Shoring up the midfield
Heath said management has inquired around the league about adding a reserve midfielder who can provide depth if Ozzie Alonso, Jan Gregus or Rasmus Schuller are out of the lineup. “It’s an area we feel we’re a little weak in,” Heath said. He’s hopeful for a response by the weekend.
He said it
Mannone, when asked if he has had enough time to know his new team and teammates and vice versa: “It’s something I’ve done in the past. As soon as you step on the field, everyone has his own experiences. It’s good to bring your own experience on the field and try to learn from your defenders and they’ll learn the way I play. It has been quite a fast process.”